Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Robinson questions Civil Service chief's lack of attendance at veterans board

Gavin Robinson
Gavin Robinson

A DUP MP has asked the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service to explain his absence from meetings of a panel that supports veterans of the armed forces.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson was speaking after it emerged during a parliamentary committee that David Sterling has never attended any meeting of the Armed Forces Covenant and Veterans Board since it was set up in 2017.

This is despite there being a standing invitation for the Civil Service chief to attend such meetings.

Mr Robinson said he was "shocked" to learn the invitation has never been taken up.

"For some time I have queried whether the Northern Ireland Office were the most appropriate representation for Northern Ireland on the board," he said.

"The NIO has no functional or operational involvement in the key departments that deal with veterans needs. I was shocked today to hear it confirmed that there is a standing invitation for the Head of the Civil Service to attend the board, but that has never been taken up either personally or with a substitute representing NICS.

"I would hope the head of the Civil Service can explain why this invitation has not been taken up. There may be an opportunity for the Defence Committee to ask those questions directly to David Sterling."

Mr Robinson said one of the key roles of the boards was to draw on the commitment of all government departments, including devolved regions, and Northern Ireland "should not be left behind"

An Executive Office spokesperson said it would be improper to attend the panel as it had not been agreed politically.

“The NICS takes seriously its responsibility to all citizens including veterans and serving personnel. Northern Ireland is represented by the Department of Health on the MOD/Departments of Health Partnership Board which covers England and the three Devolved Administrations," the spokesperson said.

"This Board deals with health matters for veterans and serving personnel.  Participation in Armed Forces Covenant structures was not agreed by the Executive and in the absence of political agreement, it would not be appropriate for civil servants to participate.

"The NICS has, however, provided advice to the UK Government on the services available to UK armed forces veterans in Northern Ireland."

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